Anti-Mormonism 2012, take 2


Imagine, if you will, a field of presidential wannabes that included a Jew and a Catholic. And that they all showed up for a convocation of Protestant political activists. And that a couple of leading figures at the convocation made pointed comments about how what the party needed was a “true Christian” candidate–making clear that neither the Jew nor the Catholic qualified.

All hell would break loose. From the rooftops, the ADL and the Catholic League would issue denunciations. The other candidates would, without mumbling, do the same, as would the party in question. Editorials and opinion columns would raise a hue and cry. And the country would bethink itself of the Sixth Article of the Constitution, which concludes with the declaration that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Anti-Mormonism, not so much. Yes, Mitt Romney, the Mormon in question at last weekend’s Values Voters confab, did take a swipe at Bryan Fischer–a pretty mild one in my book, but which the estimable Joanna Brooks considers sufficient. (See Brooks on the passive-aggressive character of Mormon pushback.) And here and there, there’s been some disavowal from the other candidates, though lots of mumbling too. But in what can only be considered a case of defining bigotry down, the remarks of Fischer and Robert Jeffress have been widely noted, mildly condemned.

Why, for example, has there been nothing from the Tea Party, given its supposed reverence for the Constitution? Perhaps it is merely standing on the letter of the text, as Jeffress did in speaking with Politico’s Burns and Haberman.

Jeffress said he does not believe that Mormonism is a disqualifier
for the presidency, pointing out that constitutionally, the “government
can impose no religious test.”

“Private citizens can impose all kinds of religious tests,” he added.

George Washington saw it differently when he wrote of how the U.S. government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” Historically, the constitutional ban on religious tests has cast a healthy penumbra over American politics, such that in the middle of the 19th century even members of a virulently anti-Catholic political party would say they “know nothing” rather than admit that they were moved by anti-Catholic bigotry. It is past time for anti-Mormon bigotry in the politics of our own era to receive the wholesale denunciation it deserves.